Australia plans tougher laws for social media sites that fail to remove violent content

Australia’s government has proposed a new law that could punish social media companies and their executives if they do not swiftly remove violent content from their platforms.

The legislation, proposed Saturday, could sentence social media executives to up to three years in prison and fine corporations for 10 percent of their annual turnover if it is determined that appropriate action was not taken to remove the content.

“Big social media companies have a responsibility to take every possible action to ensure their technology products are not exploited by murderous terrorists,” Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement.

ADVERTISEMENT

“This is about keeping Australians safe by forcing social media companies to step up and do what the community expects of them to stop terrorists and criminals spreading their hate.”

Should the law pass, tech platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube would be forced to “expeditiously” remove “abhorrent violent content.” A jury would then decide if the companies took swift enough action to take down the content.

The government is expected to present the law to Parliament formally next week.

The proposal comes two weeks after a shooter opened fire at two New Zealand mosques, killing 50 people.

A social media account believed to be linked to the gunman posted a lengthy manifesto online expressing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views shortly before the attack. The shooter, a suspected white supremacist, livestreamed the shooting on Facebook.

Morrison also announced that a task force has been created between the government and social media companies to collaborate on preventing the spread of violent material online.

“These responses will form the basis of a model approach that Australia can take to the G20 to get our global partners on board to bring social media companies into our collective net of responsibility and accountability. We are already working to this end with our G20 and five eyes partners, including New Zealand,” Morrison said. 

The Australian government met with social media companies this week, including Facebook, but said it was not satisfied following the conclusion of the sit-down.

“(They) did not present any immediate solutions to the issues arising out of the horror that occurred in Christchurch,” Mitch Fifield, Australia’s minister for communications, said in a statement on Saturday.

Facebook earlier this week announced it will begin banning white nationalist or white separatist content on its platform in the coming days.

"Our own review of hate figures and organizations – as defined by our Dangerous Individuals & Organizations policy – further revealed the overlap between white nationalism and separatism and white supremacy," Facebook said in the blog post announcing the change. "Going forward, while people will still be able to demonstrate pride in their ethnic heritage, we will not tolerate praise or support for white nationalism and separatism."